East Timorese have voted to choose members of parliament, following a
relatively peaceful two-round presidential contest in March and April.
Polls opened early Saturday in an electoral process that is expected to
result in the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers in December.
Twenty-one parties fielded candidates for the 65-seat parliament. The
two top parties are the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT)
and the Fretilin.
Damien Kingsbury, an Indonesian expert at Australia's Deakin University,
says the campaign period has been surprisingly peaceful, giving a boost
to the country's fragile democracy. But he says there remain challenges.
"There's one possible outcome that could be the so-called fly in the
ointment," Kingsbury said. "That is, if a coalition is not able to be
formed, if there is a minority government which under the constitution
is a legitimate option, then I suspect that no one would regard us as
legitimate. That would plunge the country back into a fairly nasty
The former Portuguese colony achieved independence in 1975, but was
occupied by Indonesia until voters chose independence in an
international referendum in 1999. Pro-Indonesian militants began a
bloody campaign of retribution, which was ended by the introduction of
In 2002, East Timor was internationally recognized as independent.
Despite intermittent violence, East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste,
has been relatively peaceful. The last elections were held in 2007.
to Kingsbury, the international community is optimistic in believing the
vote winners will form a coalition government with one political party
or another. And if a coalition is formed, the United Nations
peacekeepers will leave Timor by the end of the year.
Kingsbury says the involvement of the international community is
necessary for various reasons.
"[In] 2006 we came very close to a civil war, and I think had the
international community not intervened at that time it would have been
plunged into civil war," he added.
Kingsbury says poverty and the distribution of wealth from an $11
billion oil fund from deposits found in the Timor Sea will be among the
key issues facing whatever government emerges from the elections.
He says the funds must be distributed fairly among residents of one of
the poorest Asian countries. He says the capital, Dili, has shown
infrastructure improvements in the 10 years since independence, with
traffic jams and a new shopping mall. But, he says outside the city,
little has changed.